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The Witch Doctor

by John Collings

            Norman Rideout and his team travel to hundreds of villages. God does something unique in each one.  The following is a story picked up from bits and pieces of conversations, letters, phone calls and trips to Thailand over the last five years.  It is a true story, and as accurate as it was given to me according to my memory.  I felt compelled to write it down for myself so that I could see it in one continuous piece, and so I share it with you trusting the Lord will give you a bit more insight into what He is doing in Thailand.

            He was an ancient old man.  No one knew how old he really was, well past 90 years, but they gave him a wide berth when he made an appearance.  He had a large family, many of them lived in the same village.  Not many had the courage to approach or speak to him.  Even in his advanced age and increasing sickness, it was not an empty reputation that gave cause for fear when his name was spoken or when his shadow paused at a village home.  This man knew secrets that had been lost to all but himself.  He knew the past, and his people, and he knew Satan himself.  In that knowing, he was the past and he was the people, and he was the representative of Satan to all who knew of him. He was known as the Witch Doctor, but he was much more.  He was a high priest of his art and for his master.

            Young men were attracted to his power, and sat at his feet to learn what he knew.  They were proud to know a small piece of what the Witch Doctor knew.  As his apprentices they also commanded the respect of those around them.  Every event in the village required a proper sacrifice or incantation that the spirits might have favor on those involved.  Weddings and births, plantings and holidays, sickness and death, every event in the life of the village required the presence of this witch doctor or one of his helpers.  And not this village only, but to many others where his reputation was known, he was called to grant blessings, to heal the sick.  He could also be called on to curse enemies, to cast hex on those out of favor.  For the blessings and for the curses he was paid.  Accidents and sickness would visit those who were out of his favor.  No one, questioned his power.  It was documented in the lives of all who knew him.

            There were Christians in the village.  They, too, quaked at the Witch Doctor’s presence.  Once in a while a bold young man would witness Christ to him, and the Witch Doctor would listen.  He knew the god of these young men, in many ways he knew their god better than they did. He practiced his art and evoked the demons, raging a war of fear and evil against the one God.   The Witch Doctor even knew the qualities of good and justice and mercy of this god who he battled against.  He battled for Satan that he might keep captive all in his domain. 

            It seemed the Witch Doctor had been there forever.  He had acquired elephants in his youth, and was considered a rich man. During the Japanese occupation of Thailand he worked his elephants for the Japanese, hauling logs.  He knew the first missionaries that came to his land shortly after that and was curious about what they had to teach.  He watched as some of his people would take their god.  But as these new converts would grow up he noticed that they had words, but there was no power or testimony in their lives.  They would set aside one day a week to worship the “one god of good”, but the same “Christians” would come to him to buy blessings.  No consistent walking in a power that could change or control lives as he knew his power could.  Yet still, he watched, and knew all that happened in the lives of the people around him.  It was the Witch Doctor himself who created a law requiring those who worshipped a god other than his to be exiled from their home and possessions and family.  In this way he ruled and kept watch over all those around him.  

            Pracha lived in this same village.  He was a superintendent of several village schools.   A humble teacher, useful to the government for what he knew, and in that way, Pracha distinguished himself, but in all other ways he was an ordinary man.  Drinking and worldliness consumed him.  Pracha was still  young  when he came to the Lord.  The drinking ceased, his life was changed dramatically, yet he was still a quiet unassuming man.  God filled him with a restlessness to fellowship with other Christians who had really given their lives to Christ.  He began giving all his spare time to traveling to other villages, evangelizing and worshipping and knowing the power of his God.   Five years later he quit the security of his teaching position and gave himself to the full time ministry of evangelism with the team men he had been working with part time. 

            What a contrast to the darkness he knew under the power of the Witch Doctor.  Pracha was a nephew to the great man, and though they lived in the same small village and shared the same family, Pracha never had to courage to even speak to him.   So as the Lord let him share in victories in lives of many who came to know Christ from other tribes and villages this was the conviction that began to grow in him. . .To speak of Christ to his uncle . . . no, more than that. . . to lead him to Christ before sickness and age consumed the him.

            It was no small thing.  Pracha must have wrestled with this intercession for years before having the courage to ask Norman to join him in believing for the Witch Doctor.  So great was his power and reputation that even together it was a serious matter to choose a day to visit him.  The day came and the trip was begun, but the weather was not favorable.  The closer Norman and Pracha got to their destination the harder the rain fell.  Maybe they were both looking for an excuse to turn back.  The four wheel drive truck slid, the jungle road became more and more difficult until several miles from their destination the truck became useless, and they had to begin walking.  Still the rain would not let up. 

            As they approached the Witch Doctor’s hut, he told them to go on, the Christian’s lived further on and he had no need of them.  Perhaps they gained entrance because of the weather which had seemed to be against them, but Norman and Pracha were allowed into his house.  For the first time Pracha spoke to his uncle.  They and were allowed to speak with him about their god.  He listened and asked questions and to their surprise he even invited them to spend the night.  Into the next day and its night the three talked and shared.  Later he said it was the testimony of the life of his nephew that opened him up to listen.  There had never been any question of the “one god” who created the universe and ruled above the demons and spirits of this world.  But there had never been a life of testimony of how this god worked in the lives of a man.  So when he watched the “Life” in his nephew for five years,  and when he heard of how God came as a man, sacrificing himself as a man, and then living in us by his spirit, all this bore witness to what he had known and seen.  

            There were several trips, and Pracha brought others of his co-workers to witness and share with his uncle.  SomChai and Moses shared the Love and Mercy of their Lord.  As they talked and as the months went by the old man became more open and interested.   

He received Christ as his Lord, and asked to be baptized. 

            But none of this went unnoticed.  There was great interest in the patriarch of the village and in the visitors who came to his hut.  He held the history of his people, their culture, and even the power of their dark god.

            It seemed unrelated and inconvenient when Norman broke his ankle while jogging the week before he was to baptize the old man.  A village preacher who had been involved had a freak accident on his motorcycle and broke a bone.  Another who would have baptized him was confined to bed by sickness.   The baptism was moved to another village, and was performed on schedule.  The old man became a new man in Christ. 

            The next week he made the journey to the city.  A difficult journey for a sick old man, to thank Norman for his part in bringing him the Light of Christ, and to apologize for the broken bones and sickness that had afflicted the team  because of the curses of his apprentices. 

            The former witch doctor lamented his old ways and shared how the law which he had applied on all Christians under his power in former times was now his own punishment.  At more than ninety-seven years of age, by the law that he had enacted years before he was cast from his home and separated from belongings and the village that he had once ruled. 

            He speaks a different power now, and walks with a new stature.  To the amazement of all who know him, his back has straightened, and sickness is gone since his baptism.  The Christ he proclaims is greater than those who curse him, and a village who knew only darkness has Light. Those who watch him must wonder about the god who can take an aging, sickly, feared high priest of Satan, and transform him into a servant of the Most High.  Surely if the changed life of his nephew, a humble school teacher turned evangelist can change this one, the life and testimony of Chepaw the former witch doctor will affect the whole village.   Pray it be so.